I really should know better by now. Years ago I was among the first to buy a Palm Pilot — thinking that I would use this wondrous device to keep track of my many contacts and appointments. Never mind that I could count both contacts and appointments, in any given month, on the fingers of one hand. Never mind that I still had to enter everything via a clumsy interface using a stylus that was prone to vanish on a regular basis. That Palm Pilot, I felt, was going to make all the difference.Not sure what happened to it. Probably in a drawer somewhere, next to the mini digital recorder I once bought to record my valuable insights while driving. I’ve got several drawers jammed with MP3 players and crappy webcams and wireless headsets. I’ve got power bricks and cords for devices long defunct, remotes that control nothing. Someday I’ll throw them all out. Or so I keep saying.
All of which argues against my subtle craving for the Echo. It’s wondrous technology, I guess. But to be honest, it’s totally superfluous to my life in 2016. Maybe if it could mow the lawn or box up all all the crap I’ve been meaning to get rid of. But all it can do is listen, and the fact is, I’m not yet fully comfortable talking to inanimate devices. Not in the privacy of my own home, and certainly not in public. The problem is, the devices still seem worse than I at executing simple commands and comprehending simple sentences.
I remember eating breakfast at a LaQuinta Inn during my last road trip: A woman at the next table had her iPhone out and was demanding weather information from Siri. She asked the same question half a dozen times, slightly rephrasing it in steadily increasing volume. Other diners exchanged nervous glances. The capricious Siri continued to feign ignorance. Finally the woman strode from the room, stabbing at the phone with a vengeful finger. She would have had more luck just looking out the window.
Which pretty much mirrors my limited experience with the Internet of Things. So far, it does nothing I can’t do more efficiently the old-fashioned way: turn on a light, change a channel, select a song. Adjust the thermostat. Order a new box of poop bags. I understand how automating these trivial things can bestow a sense of power and control, but I wonder if the opposite isn’t true, if we’re not losing more control with every device we add.
Last week’s attacks on the Internet, enabled mostly by compromised smart devices, suggest we’re surrendering volition at our peril. It’s bad enough that most of these Internet “things” are solutions looking for a problem; now they can harnessed to actually create problems without solutions — like wiping out a large swath of Internet on the Eastern Seaboard. When everyone plus dog has half a dozen devices that access the Internet without their active participation, it’s probably past time to be cautious about adding even more.